How to Choose and Use Quality Literature in the Classroom

As educators, we know that books are valuable tools for promoting dialogue, learning new vocabulary words, building expressive language skills, and advancing a deeper understanding and interpretation of language. Indeed, research has shown that children who have an environment at home and at school where they are frequently read to and can interact with adults about books typically become good readers and have positive associations with books and reading.

Although it is important to keep these academic goals in mind when choosing books to read aloud in the classroom, teachers also have the responsibility of choosing quality books that children will genuinely enjoy and bond with emotionally. It is important for teachers to keep in mind, however, that not all books written for children are what can be considered “good” books.

This article will provide teachers with a few specific guidelines to consider when choosing what books to read aloud in the classroom, and ideas on how quality literature can be incorporated into the curriculum in multiple learning domains.

How to Choose a “Good” Book

The word quality is defined as being the highest or finest standard. What criteria define quality in the realm of children’s literature? With thousands of books published each year specifically for children, it can be difficult discerning which books should be considered good and which ones are, well, not so good.

Here are a few specific guidelines to consider when choosing what books to use in an early childhood classroom:

Consider the attention span of your audience. At this age, books that are being read aloud to large groups should be more of a narration of events; too much dialogue (especially if there is nothing that distinguishes the voices of the characters that are speaking) can be confusing and difficult for young children to follow.

Choose books with rich vocabulary and varied sentence structures. Pictures and Illustrations Often illustrations can provide meaningful reinforcement for the learning of new vocabulary words. Illustrations should be bold and colorful and complimentary to the text of the story. Also, many children’s books contain captivating and imaginative artwork that can provide exposure to a wide variety of artistic styles such as watercolor, oil paint, collage, cartoon, photography, block prints, etc. Children will frequently choose or identify favorite books because they are drawn to them visually.

Think Critically. Children should have access to books that reflect their own lives and experiences as well as to books that depict the diversity of society at large. A book’s topic may be foreign to the children’s life experience, so the pictures must help them to visualize what they have never seen. Consider what the author’s overall message is and avoid books that depict gender, ethnic, racial, and religious stereotypes.

Where to Look

There are a number of awards given to the best books published each year. Look for books that have been honored with such awards as the Caldecott Medal, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award. Also look for other noteworthy titles that are published by organizations such as the American Library Association, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and the Children’s Literature Assembly. Professional librarians, early childhood organizations, and fellow teachers are also great resources to refer to when looking for quality books to use in the classroom.

Click the links below for lists of the best books to read aloud in the classroom.

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